“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Proverbs 27:17
“Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 1 Corinthians 15:33
Recently, we went to see The Karate Kid in its latest incarnation, featuring Jaden Smith (son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett). His character, Dre, had a friendship with a cute little Chinese girl, a violinist. Her father took her music career very seriously, even hiring a private tutor. One day, Dre persuaded her to play hooky from school, when she should have been preparing for an audition with a prestigious school of the arts. While they were traipsing through the city, she got a call from her father – the audition had been moved up. They wanted to see her in an hour and her father was coming to pick her up at school. Busted. After the audition, the father made her tell Dre that she couldn’t see him anymore because he wasn’t a good friend (or influence) for her. At the time, skipping school seemed harmless but it almost caused her to miss out on an opportunity to improve her circumstances. Dre realized that he did not inspire her to do something good. Later, he apologized to her father, promising to be the best friend that she could ever have.
At one time, my own definition of friendship was simple – pretty much anyone who wanted to hang around me, regardless of how mean or negative they could be, counted as a friend. I was guilty of letting people latch on to me because of my need for acceptance. Soon, I found myself surrounded by negative people. They were friendly enough, at times; the kind of people who were quick to pick up the tab for a meal or offer to do a favor. But on many occasions they showed their true character; sometimes, they were merely guilty of not being supportive enough or being negative about my accomplishments. But I continued on in these friendships because of loyalty and because I hoped the relationships were salvageable, despite their character flaws.
The good news is, one day I realized things needed to change. I thought to myself: I gotta start hanging out with a better quality of people. I resolved that I would choose my friends more wisely, instead of just letting friendships happen. No more letting people just latch on to me. I didn’t push my existing friends away or try to change them. I changed me. My focus changed. As I reached for higher things in life, I found that bad relationships fell away. Of the friendships that have remained throughout the years, it was because they chose to rise higher and to evolve with me. Some have even inspired me to climb higher, which is what good friendships should do. The negative influences that were part of my life have long since gone and God has replaced them with friends who are like minded. We encourage each other to be better people. We inspire each other to service – be it to our families or society. My friends support me and make me feel good about myself, my life and my accomplishments, as I do for them. My friends make me feel like I can do anything! I thank God for them. I know now that I don’t need to fear letting go of poisonous relationships because God is able to give me better friendships that are real.
My son just completed his freshman year in college. I allowed that there would be a period of adjustment and, very likely, quite a bit of goofing off. Still, I hoped for the best. Sigh. While he did ok, I felt a little disappointed because I’d hoped for GREATNESS. I’ve always taught my kids that your life can sometimes be a direct reflection of the type of people who surround you. Hang around with people who party and expect to receive that type of reward. Conversely, surrounding yourself with people who are more goal-oriented and focused on the future will reap a different kind of reward. You’ll start to think like they do, emulate them. Reaching for excellence will become the norm, instead of the exception. I’ve encouraged my children to have friends who can influence them in a positive way but also, to be that person who impacts others positively. You are an example, regardless to whether or not you want to be – good or bad is entirely up to you.
Just the other day, my son mentioned that one of his friends got a car. Then he went on to say of his friend, “She is one of the few people I respect.” I thought, “Wow.” He told me how she declared at the beginning of the year that she intended to buy the car of her dreams. For the entire school year, he watched this friend work a “little job”, which was pretty far away. When necessary, she got up early and took the bus, sometimes having to walk to her dorm in the evenings – all the while, saving up for her dream car. She had money but “lived like she didn’t.” She skipped the party scene and ended the school year with a 3.0+ GPA. But the most obvious reward for her efforts was when my son watched her drive up to school in her new car. He knew she’d worked hard for it. He knew the sacrifices she’d made. He admired her drive and determination to reach her goal. And, he realized that he could have done the same thing. She inspired him to want to be better. By her example, she’d proved, more effectively than any lecture I could give, that setting goals and hard work does eventually pay off. She was a good friend and influence on my son. I thank God for her.
To be a good example, you don’t have to be perfect but you should be reaching for something more. As we grow and mature and become better people, we must motivate others around us to become better people. “Strengthen the brethren,” so to speak. It’s our responsibility, not only to cultivate good friends, but to be good friends – to be a good influence and set the positive example. It’s a smart person who sees the poor example but decides to do the opposite. It’s a wise person who sees the positive example and follows that course. Better, by far, is the person who realizes they have the ability and responsibility to influence others and chooses to be the positive example. So I don’t want to be a blind leader of the blind, causing others to fall into a ditch. I aspire to encourage folks to do more, be more, reach for more. And, I’m looking for others who will do the same.